All the Thoughtful Ways You’re Living a Consciously Minimal Lifestyle

April 25, 2018

Over the last few months, we’ve shared excerpts from The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store, and even had a chance to chat with Cait Flanders herself about her personal minimal-spending journey. Turns out, you had lots of thoughts and experiences, too. We’ve compiled them all together for you below.

  • FrugalCat: I read a book several years ago called Give It Up!: My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less where the author gave up one thing a month. Some were food-related, some were not. A couple were specific to N.Y.C., where she lived (taxis, elevators). I got inspired and back in 2011, I went for it. I alternated food ones (meat, dairy, alcohol, sugar, dining out) with non-food ones (television, driving, cursing, shopping). It was interesting and enlightening. Hardest month BY FAR was sugar.

  • Djay: Very timely article for me as I have been sorting and decluttering for well over a year. What I have discovered is that getting rid of stuff progresses in layers; what I thought I could not get rid of six months ago, I am able to let go of it now. And in a continuum from what I know I do not want to what would I totally miss if I got rid of it. It is amazing how we cling to our stuff for whatever reasons others cannot understand. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Kathy Mueller: I have been doing something extremely similar for the past year-and-a-half, more out of necessity. Even my favorite quote for the past two decades is "wants vs needs." If I don't NEED it, I don't buy it. I have been bad about decluttering; that is a work in progress. I quilt, so before a damaged outfit gets pitched, I save buttons, zippers, and as much nice material as can be. I donate the quilts to animal rescue facilities. Now that I will be moving to a smaller place, I hope soon. I have to make a quilt for my daybed that I am turning into a sofa. I like your idea.

  • Rhonda35: This approach to decluttering sounds much more doable for me than Marie Kondo's. I think the one thing I'd have a hard time not buying is books, especially cookbooks!

  • Rick: It's key to realize this woman wasn't living on a huge salary. If $28,000 is 51%, she was making $60,000/year or so. Of course if that was $60,000 take-home, she's likely grossing more like $85k or $90k.

Still, I think the takeaway here isn't to do precisely what she did but to consciously make decisions vs. simply buying things because. Do you really need the new HDTV or are you just buying it because it's on sale? Is the 12th handbag really something you need or is it a socially-driven habit?

Too often, we hear people complain that they make X and just can't get ahead... to me this is a call to think about how you're spending and why, and to more closely align those choices with the things you really want out of life. If that's travel... perhaps live with the TV you have or forego the cute handbag. Buy a used car (or keep yours) vs buying a new one.

  • Djay: Interesting in that I cannot see me paring down that far. I think it takes a certain amount of confidence in oneself that I don't have. On the other hand, I have been sorting, decluttering and purging stuff for several years on and off, and am now climbing out of the major debt all that stuff created.

I have found that, for me, it happens in layers. What I couldn't think of re-homing last year, I can this year. I still have tons to sort through, but always with the thought of whether I would miss a particular object if it were gone. So far, there are clearly too many things that still carry that provision. It's a process. You have given me a lot to consider.

  • Ming Han: Thanks for posting this excerpt. I was a binge consumer as well, to the tune of almost six figures over stupid materialistic things that never got used (e.g. watches, clothes, etc.). These purchases were during my regular employment years, as the money was constant and felt like it would never end. Until it did early last year.

Since then, I've sort of had a reawakening as far as my life and just how much waste and needless things there was in it. So I decided to purge and am still doing so now. It's actually quite amazing how many physical items we hold onto and place value on simply because we own it. A watch that's worth $5,000 doesn't increase in value just because it's mine. That was a hard concept for me to grasp until I got rid of things, and I believe that's probably the mindset that besets hoarding.

Shop the Story

Like the author, I've always had a travel bug and have realized life is less about what I own and more about what I experience. In the past year alone, I've managed to travel to Utah, Scandinavia, Italy twice, Malaysia, and Singapore. And look forward to more.

Here's to overcoming the sickness that is consumerism.

  • heatheranne: I'm always fascinated by how people manage their money, and the things they spend it on. I always wonder how some people go traveling so much... at least it seems that way on social media! I can never afford to travel that much... and I budget to the last dime, and don't spend money easily (even when I should... like on clothes!). But then I realized that I think I just don't value it as much as others, and thus I am not willing to spend as much money on it.

I have a decent salary and no debt (I worked hard to pay off all my student debt), I have a good-sized emergency fund, and I'm able to save every month for retirement (although I doubt I'll ever be able to do that!). But, I live in an expensive city with all that entails (rent, etc.). I also have a couple of expensive sport hobbies that keep me occupied and happy through the summer and winter. If I took the money I spent on those, I could definitely do a ton more traveling. But I realized this past summer that I would rather be happy most of the time, than be happy for a week in Europe, but then have no money to do anything fun at home the rest of the time.

Same thing with my rent. I could find a cheaper place, but it would mean living in crappy basement apartment in a crappy part of town. But, being somewhat of a homebody, I want a place I love because I'm there every day. That's worth more to me than traveling. But to each their own... if traveling is important, then finding a way to make that happen without going into debt is great!

  • nannydeb: Not a "ban", but a couple of years ago my friends and I decided to stop buying birthday and Christmas/Hanukkah presents, and instead made a pact to get together and celebrate with good food and wine. We were all running around stressing about what to buy each other, and none of us needed more STUFF. It has been liberating!

  • Cíntia Souza: Hello, my name is Cíntia, I am a Brazilian journalist and I am living the prohibition to buy for a year. I have created a blog to tell you this experience and everything I am learning about financial reeducation.

It's been a really cool experience. At first it was very difficult. I liked to buy, but suddenly you get caught reviewing habits, advising people, and understanding that life is much more than shopping trips.

The book that inspired such conversation. Photo by Kathleen Lynch

Do you live minimally? What are some of the tips that helped you get there? Share your experiences with us below.

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Hana is a food writer/editor based in New York.

1 Comment

frances June 10, 2019
Love this! Thank you.